The stranger rose and stalked forward.
Elias fought a threatening wave of panic, forced himself steady, and cleared his throat. “What’s your name?”
“Valeri.” He drew a blade from his belt. “Yours?”
“Elias.” Had he avoided the whip only to be stabbed to death?
But no, Valeri reached high, took Elias’s wrists in one hand, and cut the rope with the other. When his arms tumbled free, he lost his balance and landed with a thump against Valeri’s chest.
“I’ve got you.” Valeri held him with gentle hands. Hands that just slaughtered Elias’s cruel master. In cold blood. In front of witnesses.
Numbness in Elias’s arms gave way to pins and needles, but he found his feet. He made to pull away.
Valeri tightened his hold. “Not yet, you’ll catch a chill.” He unclasped his dark wool cloak and brought it around from his shoulders to Elias’s. He refastened the clasp and smoothed the thick fabric along Elias’s collar bones. “Better.”
“Thank you,” my lord lingered on the tip of his tongue, but Elias didn’t want a new master, so he dared use his proper name instead, “Valeri.”
“You’re welcome.” Valeri raised a brow as if he recognized the bold choice Elias had made. “Elias.” The syllables rolled from his lips slowly. They stared at one another, eyes locked, until Elias gave in and lowered his gaze.
The whip was tucked into Valeri’s belt. So they’d be keeping it, then.
Elias threw a glance over his shoulder. As he suspected, the other bondslaves had stopped their fieldwork and stood gawking at the events transpiring before them. What would they think of a stranger murdering one of their overlords? Did they know Elias was complicit? They couldn’t have heard the exchange, but the whole thing would look suspicious.
“What if we’re caught?” asked Elias, his focus back on Valeri.
“We won’t be.” Confidence dripped from Valeri’s tone like blood from the jowls of a predator.
“What happens now?”
Elias’s heart thudded in his chest. He wanted to follow. “And go where?”
Valeri gave a casual shrug. “Wherever we want. But for now, to my sanctuary because you’re hungry and should eat.”
“It’s that simple?”
Valeri wanted to feed him. Elias wouldn’t say no; it was too late for that anyway. And they couldn’t stay there.
“You’re free,” Valeri murmured, taking Elias firmly by the arm.
Elias wished he could believe him, but even though it wasn’t true, he’d no urge to argue.